Five full days a week of school seems a lot for a three year old. Can my child attend part-time?
At three years of age, most children are ready to explore the world outside the home and family. They are emotionally secure, able to leave their parents and accept the comfort and reassurance of other caring adults.
However, the first few days of school can be very tiring for young children as they adjust to different routines, procedures and people. We suggest that parents and teachers observe closely in the first few days and carefully monitor their child’s ability to cope with the new environment.
In the first few weeks, we do encourage an afternoon sleep, and provide a quiet sleeping place but most young children are not willing or able to sleep at school. These young children quickly learn to adjust their activity level to their energy level. They may choose to sit at their table and rest, observing the activity of others. They may sit with us quietly for a short period.
We recommend that parents maintain meal and sleeping routines, but to be aware that children will be tired as they cope with the demands of a new environment. They will need greater reassurance and comfort as they make these adjustments.
In some circumstances, it may assist the child to reduce attendance for the first few weeks. We advise that parents continue to monitor the situation with the teacher and discuss the child’s adjustment with the teacher.
Are the children allowed to do what they want?
The children have a great deal of choice in a Montessori classroom — they are able to choose their own activity, they are able to choose where they will do it, they are able to choose who they might do it with, and how long they might do it.
Their freedom of choice is limited only by the rights of others for the same. They are not able to choose a job that is not on the shelf. They are not able to choose negative activity — to misuse materials or the feelings of others. They are not able to choose to restrict the rights of others for a peaceful and positive environment.
As a child normalises into the Montessori environment, positive and independent decision-making and action becomes what they want to do.
How is Montessori different to other early childhood settings?
A Montessori classroom is a very carefully prepared environment, with a focus on independent, freely chosen, activity. This is a very different approach to education. Children learn through their own activity, at their own pace.
The environment assists the development of independence by providing motives for purposeful activity. Help me to do it myself is the catchphrase. The children are shown how to sweep, how to polish and dust and wash all sorts of things. They are shown how to care for themselves and for others and this work becomes part of their daily routine. For example, when they wish to eat, they will wash their hands and then prepare their table. First with a placemat, then a plate. They will put their food on the plate and eat. Once finished, they will wash their plate, replace their placemat (or wash it, if necessary) and sweep clean both the table and floor.
There are many interesting things for the child to choose, all involving real, purposeful activity. The children are shown how to use the materials in clear and direct ‘lessons’. Then they are able to choose that work whenever they wish and it is available on the shelf. Children choose different work, working with alone or with another child to complete a task.
The room is broadly sectioned into different work areas — practical life, sensorial materials, maths, language, music, science and culture. At all times, all areas of the room will be used. There are very few times when all children are doing the same task and only for the start and end of day routines does the whole group come together.
Role of adult
The adults prepare the choices for the children, and provide lessons constantly on a broad range of tasks. They encourage and assist the child to make positive choices. The teachers observe the child closely, extending and expanding their interests. They promote a quiet and calm environment and protect concentration and independent action.
The environment has a simple, natural aesthetic. It is quiet, orderly and uncluttered. The children’s work is not displayed on the windows or walls. As far as possible, natural materials are used. There are no computers, televison screens or ‘playthings’. There is a real washboard for cleaning cloths, real iron for the ironing cloths, real jobs to do.
Children are grouped in three year age spans, with three, four five and six year old children in the same group. This provides great opportunity for a variety of interactions and socialisation. It also provides a lively and challenging environment where each child is able to freely follow their interests and abilities.
Children in a Montessori environment learn the same information as in traditional schools, but they learn it in a different way and at different times.
How will I know what my child does all day?
Come and watch! We encourage parents to observe in the school whenever possible, so that over time, you are able to see the range of work that might be chosen by your child. You may also hear the names of some of the materials and children.
Parents are also encouraged to take a guided tour through the school to see all the learning environments and the way children are working and interacting at all ages.
Asking a young child is not always effective. Often, a child will respond to ‘what did you do today?’ with “nothing”. You can be sure that this is not the case! However a young child may not remember what was done or may not remember the name of the task. During general conversation, and home activities, though, aspects of the day that have particularly interested your child can emerge.
Some useful books that describe Montessori environments are listed in the recommended reading list.